Saturday, October 20, 2012

London Anti-Austerity Demonstration - Success or Failure?

The head of the march leaving Central London
Any demonstration affects three broad groups - the participants, their enemies, and the wider public - in different ways. In judging an event a 'success' or 'failure', it is important to consider the impact on each of these sectors.

For most of the participants, the long-trailed London anti-austerity march seems to have been an enjoyable experience. It was colourful, noisy, and people had a chance to see that far from being a voice in the wilderness, there are many tens of thousands just as angry as they are about the ruling class austerity attacks. There is a buzz from expressing your feelings en masse - because it is a physical manifestation of the numbers needed to make change happen. This is the reason why those who took direct action will feel particularly empowered. Unfortunately, this quickly dissipates once people return home and everyday reality reasserts itself.

For the general public - the vast majority of whom are suffering just as much or more than most of today's demonstrators - there will be a shrug of the shoulders. For the most part - alienated from the unions and the 'left' as they are - they had no idea that the march was going to happen. They may catch a glimpse on the news; they may hear something from a friend. But they will not be inspired. They will not suddenly discover an outlet for their pain. They will not - in all likelihood - let it take up too much of their Saturday.

Disabled activists blocking traffic in protest against cuts
So there's no getting round the fact there will be absolute glee in ruling class circles tonight. Halfway through their parliamentary term, the coalition government will be confident that they've got the measure of the real opposition. The quarter of a million who marched eighteen months ago have dwindled to around half that figure, and the final rally featured a Labour leader refusing to reverse the cuts should he come to power, plus union bureaucrats talking windily about a possible one day general strike. Sure, there was sporadic direct action, but considering the scale of the onslaught, it was far less than some elite strategists may have feared by this stage.

But such super-rich complacency will be misplaced. What manifested in London today wasn't the totality of their opposition; it was merely the politically-connected tip of the iceberg. Millions upon millions are sickened by the blows they are receiving, and are frantically looking for a way to fight back. The government could be toppled - and cuts reversed - by locally-organised direct action, combined with an open-ended general strike. We are a long, long way from achieving that, but the task of preparing for it falls to every person reading this article.
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